EU hails UK decision to cut emissions by 50 percent

18.05.11 @ 09:22

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - The British government has announced plans to halve carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, winning strong praise from EU climate chief Connie Hedegaard.

  • Scientists say carbon dioxide emissions are a key driver of global warming (Photo: wikipedia)

After months of inter-cabinet wrangling, UK energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne outlined the 50 percent cut, compared with 1990 levels, to members of parliament late on Tuesday afternoon (17 May).

The move puts Britain well ahead of an EU pledge to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020, adding to pressure for the 27-member bloc to adopt a move ambitious target.

Unveiling the country's fourth 'carbon budget', which outlines emission targets between 2023 and 2027, Huhne told MPs the plan: "puts Britain at the leading edge of a new global industrial transformation."

"We are also sending a clear signal to the international community: that the UK is committed to the low carbon economy."

"This will help us reach agreement in Europe on moving to a 30-percent emissions reduction target - and build momentum toward a legally binding global climate change deal."

Environment ministers in Britain, France and Germany recently called upon the EU to increase its emission-cutting pledge to 30 percent, but other member states, notably upcoming EU presidency holders Poland, have been deeply reluctant to make the unilateral jump for fear of hurting their economies.

As it currently stands, the EU's international offer allows for a 30 percent cut, provided other industrialised powers followed suit.

EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard welcomed the UK announcement as: "an outstanding example of strong willingness to act despite difficult economic times."

"With this decision, the UK seizes a huge economic and innovation opportunity that will make its economy more competitive in the future," she said in a statement.

European businesses are currently split over the merits of a more ambitious EU target, with leading high-tech firms including Philips among those supporting a 30 percent cut in carbon emissions, while EU lobby group Business Europe has campaigned strongly against the move.

Tuesday's announcement by the British government comes after months of wrangling between cabinet ministers, with suggestions that Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to personally intervene.

Finance minister George Osborne, transport secretary Phillip Hammond and the business secretary Vince Cable were among those reportedly wary of the fourth carbon budget, with a compromise deal envisaging a review in 2014.

Environment groups welcomed the UK announcement, arguing that industrialised states must lead the way if a legally binding deal on climate change is to be struck at the international level.

Limited achievements at UN talks in Cancun, Mexico, last December were seen as salvaging the multilateral process after disappointment in Copenhagen a year earlier, with international negotiators now scheduled to meet in Durban this November.

Last month, both the EU and US poured cold water on the chances of a legally-binding agreement at the South African meeting however.